Plastic garbage choking water bodies as plastic ban fails
Source: Chronicle News Service / R Lester Makang

Ukhrul, May 06 2021: The population of Ukhrul district headquarters has long experienced the menace of plastic waste which is fast becoming a public health hazard, apart from being an eyesore in public places.

In recent years, plastic waste has made its way into diferent water bodies, so much so that innumerable plastic materials have clogged up majority of roadside drains and traditional streams across the town and its surrounding areas, degrading water quality and the environment.

To make things worse, Ukhrul Autonomous District Council (UADC) and Ukhrul District Administration (UDA), the two key machineries of government in the district, have not been able to do anything all these years to mitigate the problem which has now assumed a catastrophic proposition.

This is despite the fact that two separate plastic ban orders are in place.

Both UADC and UDA had separately declared a district-wide prohibition each on 'plastic carry bag' and on 'single-use plastic products' on two separate occasions in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

In an ideal scenario, or for that matter, if the authorities had been concerned enough or were able to act and enforce the ban orders accordingly, the plastic menace being witnessed across Ukhrul town and its environs today, would have been eased to some extent, if not entirely eliminated.

On the contrary, these high-sounding prohibitions have apparently remained a paper tiger with the authorities concerned failing to follow up with any concrete actions, till date, towards achieving their common goal a plastic free environment.

Apparently, while the authorities have miserably failed in controlling the plastic waste pollution, the lack of civic responsibilities among the public who have the habit of dumping their garbage indiscriminately, is aggravating the situation.

A casual promenade in and around the township would testify this.

One will fnd heaps of commercial and domestic waste, mostly of plastics that remain un-cleared for days on the sides of the town's main thoroughfare and circular roadways.

Smaller plastic debris including sweet wrappers, carry bags and bottles are found strewn all over the market places and in diferent localities.

"All these plastics ended up in our nullahs and Kongras (streams), polluting and blocking the course of water," said a town resident Tungmi in an interaction with The People's Chronicle.

He said that every year during rainy seasons, roadside nullah/drain and Kongras in his neighbourhood tend to get chocked with plastic waste materials fowing down from higher areas of the main town, citing haphazard dumping for the mess.

Tungmi, who resides near the western circular road, said that local residents have been maintaining the roadside drain in the locality by doing regular clean-ups for many years now.

"But whenever it rains, massive plastic wastes are carried down by the drain water and we are helpless about it," he rued.

He then related how a group of residents had to venture out and brave the pouring rain to clear of the clogged drain after drain water overfew and fooded the roadway during the recent pre-monsoon downpours.

"And it will be the same thing again when another rain comes," he muttered.

As another resident Asing puts it, the scale of plastic pollution in the town has become a matter of serious concern.

"It (plastic pollution) is rising at an alarming rate, and we're afraid that it's all set to continue in the face of an ever-increasing number of shops and commercial outlets and population of the town, unless the authorities initiate right steps to curb the menace at once," he said in a dismayed tone.

Complaints and prohibitions are abound but solid waste in the form of trash, litter and garbage continues to present a growing problem for this small hilly town.

Diferent local authorities are enforcing hordes of regulations, and have even imposed a penalty ranging from Rs.500 to Rs.2000 against any person(s) found dumping waste into streams and in public places.

However, despite such local measures, haphazard dumping seems to be continuing unabated.

Residents claimed that garbage collection by sanitary workers of UADC is irregular, and that unsightly piles of garbage lying un-cleared for days on the roadside have become a common sight.

In some localities, roadside drains permanently remain clogged up with waste particles and mud that drain water hardly moves and keeps fooding the roadway during monsoon.

One such place is the stretch from behind UBI bank building towards Jessa-mi tri-junction at Viewland and is well-known for its bad smell throughout the year.

Not surprisingly, many traditional streams that were once regarded as a clean water source, have become a repository for all kinds of trash including plastic carry bags, wrappers, bottles, diapers, sanitary pads, human waste and other discarded items.

Any waste material that is dropped or blown into a drain or a stream ultimately fnds its way into big rivers.

Presence of non-degradable waste like plastics in streams or rivers is a potential threat, not just to water but also to diferent forms of aquatic life found in them.

When a team of Ukhrul-based NGO Environmental Force at Grassroots Level (ENFOGAL) volunteered to conduct a cleanliness drive under the theme 'Action For Rivers' at Lungshang Kong earlier this year in March, the young participants managed to remove about 100 kg of waste, mostly plastics from the river.

Taking cognizance of the degrading water quality of Lungshang Kong which is commonly used by the population for drinking, the Lungshang Village Authority (LVA) has also notifed against washing clothes, vehicles and littering in the river.

Apart from being one of the popular picnic spots of the district, the river has been a vital source of livelihood and drinking water for the people and also a source of irrigation for paddy felds.

In 2019, Ukhrul Deputy Commissioner Joseph Pauline Kamson announced the blanket ban on sale and use of all single-use plastic products, efective from 2 October of that year, amid much fanfare.

The announcement was made in line with a country-wide prohibition of plastic products to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

A year earlier, the administration of UADC had also announced a similar ban on sale and use of plastic carry-bags below the thickness of 50 microns efective from 20 August of 2018 within its jurisdiction.

The ban was announced after High Court of Manipur directed all the ADCs to enforce a ban on plastic carry bag in connection with a PIL No 11 of 2017.UADC had also warned of stringent legal actions against violators including imprisonment or fne or both under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.It has been almost three years since the twin bans were announced but the plastic crisis situation, far from improving, is exacerbating with each passing day.

From the beginning, in fact, when the bans were frst announced in the district, some discerning members of the public had taken them with a pinch of salt.

According to them, it was easier said than done for the authorities to enforce an overnight ban when plastic products ranging from sweet wrappers to carry bags and from water bottles to medicine vials, had already become a part of life.

Perhaps, mass awareness about the issue and certain prerequisites could have been fulflled, prior to ban enforcement.

Now, a common proposition is that any sudden ban will be just like putting the proverbial 'the cart before the horse' and that the authorities concerned would do well to 'first develop an alternative way' to replace the plastic products which are omnipresent, with non-plastic or biodegradable ones.

"We had a plan to come up with an alternative before declaring the ban on plastic carry bag, which is one of the major pollutants but couldn't materialise it due to a host of factors," said Small Town Committee (STC) of UADC executive ofcer K Leiyaphy to TPC.

Citing lack of separate fund allocation as one primary reason for failure in enforcing the ban on plastic carry bag in the district, she expressed helplessness of the council administration owing to fund paucity.

"The ban is still in force and once our fund position improves, we are ready to initiate follow-up actions which will include, among others, arrangement of alternative products to replace the existing plastic carry bags," she said.

Leiyaphy also noted that the plastic menace in the township was worrying, with plastics scattered about everywhere.

"It also takes civic sense on the part of the public to not litter around and dump waste only at designated sites," she said.

She, nevertheless, said that the Small Town Committee is ill-equipped to efectively handle solid waste in the main town areas alone.

"We are asked to segregate the waste but how could we do that without any tools and equipment," she wondered.

"In our present position, burning is the only means to get rid of the waste, irrespective of plastics or other materials, though this practice is known to be hazardous to the environment," the STC ofcer added.

(This feature was written under 2nd State Level Media Fellowship on Climate Change Reporting of the Directorate of Environment & Climate Change, Manipur 2020-2021) .

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